do not mention the war

Hitler’s Mustache

In History on March 10, 2014 at 12:00

German ambassadors to the UK very often complained about British obsessions with everything concerning Hitler and the Second World War. Their claim is true and they have often voiced their concerns in many newspaper interviews. However, the English appear not to be alone as the Germans appear to be equally obsessed with the little man with the moustache.


Guido Knopp’s Infotainment

The German TV channel ZDF sees to it that the Germans have the chance to relive the life of Hitler in all its aspects. No area or sphere of his life was or is spared special attention by Guido Knopp and his research team. In doing so, Knopp achieved great success as his television programmes were broadcast at prime time. The success came with justified criticism as it portrayed the role of the Wehrmacht without the cruelties but as a ‘good army’ fighting for a just cause. Further, the support Hitler had from within society was played down and thus the historical narrative was distorted. Additionally, in a programme about the refugees from Eastern Prussia, Knopp’s team emotionalized history and grossly neglected the truth behind the movement of tens of thousands of people who moved westwards in 1945. Portraying history on television is certainly no easy task but history treated with a softener has rightfully brought the critics forward. Infotainment as provided by Knopp have kept Hitler in the public conscience and made a career off him.

Joking about Hitler?

A little book, published in 2012 by Daniel Erk argues that Adolf Hitler is an integral part of contemporary Germany and part of its history. The latter is true while the former is a bold statement. Erk underlines his argument that insignia of Nazism are alive in contemporary art and books about any topic from the period between 1933 until 1945 more often than not proves to be a best-seller. He asks is it correct to laugh about Hitler and make jokes about him and the period?

It is insightful to remind Fawlty Tower’s ‘German Episode’ in which Basil Fawlty after suffering a concussion attempts to serve German visitors at hs hotel. It was clear from the beginning that this had to go wrong. John Cleese alias Mr. Fawlty left no chance to mention the war. The presentation is of course a funny one. But was this really funny? It was as it clearly aimed at the British and their obsession with everything about the Third Reich and Hitler.

It is of course allowed to make jokes about Hitler, who provided enough material but it is important that the message is clear: the victims of Hitler and his deadly machinery must at no time be the target of any joke. Erk’s conclusion: Yes, jokes are ok about Hitler but the perspective must be a right one and the harm done to the little Austrian. Karl Marx said:

It is part of the historical experience that all past phases of the socio-historical development sooner or later will be considered as comical, despite their original tragedy.

100 Years of ‘The Catastrophe’

This year sees the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. Accordingly, the media, the public and historians – and this blog –  have plenty of opportunities to write about the ‘Ur-Catastrophe’ of the 20th century as it was labelled by many German historians. Once more, the little man from Branau is present as ever. He served in the German army and the war is known to have caused his paranoia about the Jews, Communists et. al. that led him writing Mein Kampf in the early 1920s.

Hitler also features in Florian Illies’ 1913: The Year before the Storm: The Summer of the Century in which he is depicted as a painter having hit a hard time trying to sell his works. These works were auctioned in 2009 and were sold for more than £90000 The Guardian newspaper reported in 2009.

Another Heyday: 1945-2015

The year 2015 will be once more a big year for the historical-economical complex. The year will see the 70th anniversary of the end of the war that was begun by Hitler. While this will bring the usual suspects out of their holes, Germany faces a much larger, much more complex problem. The copy right for Mein Kampf, Hitler’s opus magnum will expire as he died 70 years ago. That means, the book will be available again without being indexed. As it stands, the book cannot be sold in a book store in Germany: it is forbidden by law. However, the internet is such a smart tool, and the book can be bought online from overseas retailers. Yet, no German historical institution has bothered editing the book again and adding a comment section.

The Free State of Bavaria has commenced such a project but got cold feet and thus stopped the project. The reason: out of respect for the victims. This is interesting. The Bavarian would rather the book be available illegally – at least in Germany – than supporting a team of qualified historians to edit the book anew and publish a widely annotated and commented book? The Bavarians got their priorities wrong it seems.

Ubiquity of THE Mustache

It is clear that Hitler is ubiquitous, regardless of the media format, he is always there and will stay with us for the time being, for sure. Programmes about the life of Hitler will continue to be shown and sadly, draw viewers. Not just is the evil everywhere, the evil is also banalized as Daniel Erk has made clear. Jokes are acceptable but should be directed at the right person(s). This year there is the centenary of the Great War, in 30 years’ time there will be 100th anniversary of the end of World War II and in between there will be many more dates linked to the darkest period in German history.

It is not just the BBritish who keep the ghost of Hitler well and truly alive, the Germans are happy to join; even the French indulge in this belated ‘Führerkult’ in various publications on the magazine market. This is quite a lot given the heritage left behind by this man; a heritage that does not deserve labelled heritage. The mess possibly is more fitting a term. And yet, the evil personalized in Hitler does draw our fascination.

Should we not allow him to rest and demand of him to leave us alone?


Florian Illies: 1913: The Year before the Storm. The Summer of the Century.

Daniel Erk: Soviel Hitler war selten. Die Banalisierung des Bösen oder Warum der Mann mit dem kleinen Bart nicht totzukriegen ist.

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